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Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning,…
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Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America…

by Frances Moore Lappé

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program. As an educator, I was troubled that this book spent more than the first half of the book defining the problem before even starting to look at solutions. While it is true that we need to know what bad there is so that we can work to fix it, it was mostly because I had signed up to review this book that I pushed through for what I hoped was some concrete things I could do. Although it was nice to hear about groups working together for democracy, it did not give me a whole lot that I could concretely do, beyond what I've read (and often better) elsewhere. There were many statistics about how much the country as a whole agrees (across party lines) on certain things that need to be fixed, but there was little discussion of how we are supposed to reach across the aisle and work together and bridge the gap. And intersectionality with minority groups seemed more like an afterthought, except for a few designated sections.

I was hoping this book would be something that I could pass onto friends - something short, but encouraging, with good ideas. It lacked too much in the concrete idea department. And I have to say that I was really put off by a quote that said that organizing is "really just socializing with a focus". In all, it was too lite, a bit too self-congratulatory, and although it encourages us that we will feel better once we become involved, it doesn't get into how to do hard things.

As a primer for people who need to know more about some of what's going wrong and how we got here, this book might be a good start. As far as solutions, right now, I need more than this book has to offer. ( )
  JanesList | Oct 17, 2017 |
This book, along with 'Centering. . .' was chosen for the 2017-18 UUA Common Read. "Frances Moore Lappé, author of the multimillion-selling, 'Diet for a Small Planet' and seventeen other books, is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, the 'Alternative Nobel.'" Adam Eichen is a Democracy Fellow at the Small Planet Institute, cofounded by Lappé, and a board member of Democracy Matters. . ." Source: back cover of the book. Zachary Roth, author of 'The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy,' said of this work, ". . .[The authors] make clear that building a positive, even joyful pro-democracy movement that restores power to ordinary Americans isn't just possible--it's already happening."
  uufnn | Sep 30, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I hoped to get “Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want” by Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen, in part because I had found Moore Lappé’s books so inspiring. I am sorry that my uncorrected proof does not have the helpful index and books to follow through sections Beacon Press Books almost invariably include. (There is a page noting that they will be included in the final book, so I will probably buy the completed book.)

It has taken me a while to read it, so I have had a chance to see some of the early reviews. The very splitting behaviors that Moore Lappé and Eichen warn about in the book are prominent in the pro-Trump, anti-Trump reviews in LibraryThing. Not good. And not good reviewing. As early as page 3 they say “… Americans are not fundamentally a divided people. … Our point is that Americans who are typically portrayed as being far apart were actually seeking a similar change. In fact, poll after poll shows striking common ground in our values as well as our vision of the democracy we want.” [except for the super-rich]. Throughout the book, the authors believe in the values of most Americans. On page 120 they continue the inclusive talk: “All of this is great, you might be thinking, but America is a big country and progressives can’t make change alone – so these reforms will never pass. What this misses is that the Democracy Movement extends far beyond self-identifying “progressives”. The vast majority of Americans across party lines believes our system for financing campaigns is broken and desperately want reform.”

The only division the book accepts and revolts against is the division between most of the country and the super-rich and those who are bought by them. ( )
  Bidwell-Glaze | Sep 24, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Summary: Responding to the concentration of political power within monied elites, the authors expose their strategy, and advocate a growing Democracy Movement to recover American democratic institutions.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing consequences of politics in the post-Citizens United era is the enlarged role that hidden financial donors in what I would propose are rival plutocracies play in our national politics. That is also a concern of the authors of this work, although they only acknowledge the plutocracy of the right. While I think that is a defect of this book, the broader case they make for an active citizen’s democracy movement to challenge the hegemony of wealth in our politics is an important one. These rival plutocracies have created a polarization of the extreme right and left that doesn’t reflect the broader center of the country that has been dis-enfranchised because of the power of money, and the rippling developments that have made it more difficult to elect candidates who do not represent one of these extremes.

Frances Moore Lappe’, who I first encountered in the 1970’s in her Diet for a Small Planet teams up with young Democracy Movement activist Adam Eichen to expose the anti-democratic developments that have brought us to this place, and the need for and promise of a grassroots Democracy Movement to recovering and preserving democracy in America. There are three “powerful ideas” upon which this book is based:

1. Democracy is essential to address public needs and advance public goods.
2. Democracy is possible–a real democracy accountable to people and not narrow, private interests.
3. Each of us has a rewarding and exhilarating role to play in making democracy real.

After describing the powerful ideas that have arisen to respond to what they call “the anti-Democratic movement, the authors trace the development of this monied anti-Democratic movement. They begin with a confidential memo by Justice Lewis Powell commissioned by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce prior to his nomination to the Supreme Court. Powell expresses great concern for “free enterprise” and outlines a strategy to save it by 1) discrediting critics, branding them all as Marxists, 2) avoiding use of the word “capitalism,” substituting the rhetoric of “free” enterprise, 3) promoting a conservative presence in education, from campus speakers to textbooks, 4) gaining control of media outlets. They then describe two sets of strategies that arose from this memo. The first set of four strategies were to control the culture’s mindset:

Strategy 1: Command the Narrative. Think tanks pump out anti-government and pro-market gospel.
Strategy 2: Delegitimize Democracy’s Norms and Institutions.
Strategy 3: Quietly create a parallel political operation pushing the anti-democratic message with hundreds of front groups, community by community.
Strategy 4: Build big donors’ common purpose and coordinate their efforts to achieve the three strategies above.

The second four strategies then rig the rules to favor the monied elites:

Strategy 1: Open doors ever wider to big-money influence in our political system.
Strategy 2: Expand an army of lobbyists and usher anti-democracy forces into government.
Strategy 3: Reduce the voting power of those most likely to be hurt by, and therefore opposed to, the anti-democracy agenda. Curbing voting rights and access and the ruthless gerrymandering of districts.
Strategy 4: Where possible, wipe out local democracy altogether. Eliminate local control, destroy worker protections.

Part three of the book outlines the agenda of the nascent Democracy Movement and gives examples of the kind of impact citizens can have. What must clearly be focused on is finance reform, limits to the power of lobbyists, and redistricting reforms, along with bringing increased transparency about funding sources. The last several chapters are motivational, describing what the authors see as a growing and diverse grassroots movement that came together around a march from Philadelphia to Washington, around resistance to anti-democratic actions in North Carolina, the Women’s March, and other actions. The final chapter is a call for daring engagement in the pursuit of democracy, and outlines additional strategies each of us might pursue. Generally, these strategies combine individual courageous initiative, finding like-minded individuals via events and social media, joining forces with similar movements, and thus amplifying one’s voice.

One thing I think these writers get right is the need for an engaged democracy–that there are a number of us who are not being heard in our highly polarized political discourse. I call us “the adults” who believe a good society has to work for all of us, across race, social class, economic status, religion and gender. We realize it won’t be perfect for anyone, but that good solutions don’t leave anyone out, and the contributions of everyone are considered vital to our society’s health. It has to address concerns of both conservatives and liberals. Most of us are not extremists in any form–Marxist, fascist, anti-facist, you name it. We’re Americans who still think a democratic republic is worth preserving and enhancing, and it won’t be if a monied plutocracy controls it. We are the people we’ve been waiting for, whether young or old, and it is time to make our voices heard and not leave our politics and governance to the extremes.

At the same time, this work left me with two concerns. One is that the authors, (and Lappe’, a veteran activist should know better) do not adequately articulate a long term vision of pursuing democracy. The “anti-democracy” movement they describe was a disciplined, long-term effort by highly committed and focused alliances of individuals, and not simply the influence of a lot of money. Unless there is similar long-term discipline and focus to the democracy movement they envision, their efforts will be little more than attention-deficit disordered emotivist ventilation.

More concerning is that this work at best makes passing references to major funding of progressive causes, which was eclipsed in 2016. But to authentically represent “the adults” in the middle, the authors needed to denounce and expose the monied interests on both extremes in American politics, the elites on both extremes that have controlled our political conversation. Not doing so exposes this movement to the charge of being “stalking horses” for these progressive causes, particularly when they move beyond questions of electoral reform to social issues supported by the left while concerns of thoughtful moderate conservatives are ignored. I would suggest that until the writers do so, this proposal is not democratic enough.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Sep 18, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book isn't quite what I expected, which was that it would be a simple how-to book on how to create an America for the people. But the book is interesting to me for two main reasons: One, it gives some background information on the anti-Democracy movement that started during the civil rights era, and two, it provides (some) information for people who want to fight for democracy.

Quite a good deal of the book deals with the history and tactics used by various organization to influence politics and society to favor corporations and how that has affected democratic rights in America. It explains a lot about what the agenda of the current GOP is all about, and why, for instance, they seem to want to take away affordable, accessible health care, or why they fight against unions, or why they try to suppress the voting rights of certain demographics, and it explains how incredibly deep and powerful their reach is, from the textbooks used in our schools, to the pervasive media that's planted with operatives who push the "free market" propaganda of the Republican party. I knew some of this stuff already, having followed fairly closely the Presidential election of 2016 in the US, but some of it I wasn't aware of. At first I thought all this background was boring and somewhat pointless, but I think knowing how Americans are being brainwashed to believe that a capitalistic society is what makes America great, helps to know how to fight against the negative parts of this agenda.

One complaint I have about this book, is that it is cleary biased, and when it finally gets to the part about how to save Democracy, it seems to kind of leave out the parts about how we as Americans share values, and that's what makes us strong. I was left a bit confused as to how to help bring along the staunch Republicans and Trump supporters, so that instead of seeing "the left" as evil and trying to undermine their America, they could see how a Democracy of the people rather than corporate and money controlled capitalism, is the way to a more prosperous life for them, as well as the "liberals." It's clear that the brainwashing via the media and other sources worked in creating an us vs them mentality, not just on the right, but the left as well. You can't really "fight" for Democracy if you leave half the country behind, and I was disappointed to not see any practical advice on how pro-Democracy activists could achieve "converting" right-wing people to fight for democratic rights along with the leftists.

It seems there must be some happy middle-ground, where we can have the best of both worlds, capitalism, but not of the GOP-flavored crony variety where the rich get richer while the middle-class disappears; and where power is in the hands of the people without it being absolute power or a "communist" type system which seems to be a deep fear of the right wing voters. We need to convince people to abandon partisanship politics, but as long as big money (and dark money) are pervasive, I don't really see that happening, no matter how long and hard we protest, or vote, our voices just aren't being heard. ( )
  nonobadkitty | Sep 17, 2017 |
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